For those who vacationed on the Florida coastline this Memorial Day, the summer season launched with a bang, or more specifically, with hundreds of stings. Because of steady Atlantic winds, this past holiday weekend the beaches were swamped with reddish-colored jellyfish, known as mauve stingers, resulting in more than 800 reported stings among the beachgoers.
ABC news spoke with pediatricians, dermatologists and emergency medicine experts to pull together a guide to preventing, identifying and treating the various ills that can accompany your summer fun.
When Jellyfish Attack
Although there are many different species of jellyfish throughout the coastal United States, the resulting sting is largely the same. When you come into contact with a jellyfish, either underwater or when they're beached on land, small barbs in the tentacles catch on your skin and cause red welts.
If you think you've been stung by a jellyfish (and given how painful a jellyfish sting is, you usually know it), the best thing to do is rinse the sting in saltwater, not freshwater, says Dr. Lee Winans, head of the emergency room at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce, Fla.
"The little barbs are packets of poison, and if you use freshwater, it will cause them to rupture and make the reaction worse," he says.
Rubbing or patting the area can also cause these packets to rupture, so take a shell or credit card and scrape the barbs off the area while rinsing in the saltwater, says Dr. James Schmidt, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, Va.
There are a lot of old wives' tales or home remedies concerning jellyfish stings. Some people say you should pee on the sting, others say to use vinegar or meat tenderizer on them. These remedies can be somewhat helpful because they neutralize the jellyfish venom to an extent, says Winans, but in the ER doctors would use ammonia to do that.
If the stings cover a large portion of the body, systemic reactions such as nausea, vomiting and breathing problems can occur in some people and these symptoms should be checked out by a medical professional right away. Otherwise, use topical hydrocortisone cream and hot or cold compresses (whichever feels best).